Getting Specific About Psychological Inertia

Date01 June 2018
Published date01 June 2018
Getting Specific About
Psychological Inertia:
Mediating the Past
Crime–Future Crime
Relationship With Self-Efficacy
for a Conventional Lifestyle
Glenn D. Walters
A three-wave mediational analysis with two parallel mediators was performed on prospective data
provided by all 1,354 (1,170 boys, 184 girls) members of the Pathways to Desistance study. In the
analysis, baseline variety of offending scores (Wave 0) served as the independent variable, Wave 2
variety offending scores served as the dependent variable, and Wave 1 self-efficacy for conventional
behavior and general confidence in avoiding future legal trouble served as mediators. Controlling for
age, sex, race, parental socioeconomic status, callous/unemotional traits, and moral disengagement,
it was determined that only self-efficacy for a conventional lifestyle successfully mediated the past
delinquency–future delinquency relationship. From both a theoretical and practical standpoint, the
current results indicate that efficacy expectancies specific to participating in a conventional lifestyle
are more important in preventing subsequent delinquency than simple confidence in one’s ability to
avoid future legal trouble.
crime continuity, delinquency, self-efficacy, avoiding police contact
Despite the fact past crime is one of the best predictors of future crime (Gendreau, Little, & Goggin,
1996), there is little consensus as to the nature and meaning of this relationship. The past crime–
future crime relationship, commonly referred to as crime continuity, has been attributed to one of the
two processes: population heterogeneity and state dependence (Nagin & Paternoster, 2000).
Whereas population heterogeneity holds that crime continuity is a consequence of time-stable
characteristics that increase propensity for delinquency and crime at different points in a person’s
life, state dependence maintains that involvement in prior delinquency or crime fundamentally alters
Department of Criminal Justice, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Glenn D. Walters, Department of Criminal Justice, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2018, Vol. 43(2) 186-201
ª2017 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817704697
a person’s odds of future involvement in delinquency and crime. Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990)
general theory of crime provides a population heterogeneity explanation for crime continuity
whereby individuals low in self-control ar e at risk for criminality as both juveniles and ad ults
because of the time-stable nature of relative self-control. Labeling theory (Lemert, 1972) offers a
different perspective on crime continuity by advancing a state dependence interpretation of crime
stability. Involvement in primary deviance or initial offending, which is often marked by weak
population heterogeneity, sets off a chain of events, such as reduced opportunities for participation
in conventional roles and limited ability to assume a conventional identity (Becker, 1963), which
then serve to augment the individual’s chances of engaging in secondary deviance or subsequent
offending. Hence, early delinquent involvement increases the odds of a person’s future involvement
in delinquency.
Nagin and Paternoster (2000) contend that population heterogeneity and state dependence are
neither mutually exclusive nor inherently incompatible. Although the trend has been for investiga-
tions using official arrest and conviction data in samples of moderate- to high-risk individuals to
produce results more favorable to the population heterogeneity hypothesis (Paternoster, Dean,
Piquero, Mazerrolle, & Brame, 1997) and for studies examining self-reported offending in groups
of lower risk individuals to be more congruent with the state dependence hypothesis (Nagin &
Paternoster, 1991; Paternoster & Brame, 1997), most studies show some support for both hypotheses
(Bushway, Brame, & Paternoster, 1999; Ezell & Cohen, 2005; Nagin & Farrington, 1992; Nagin &
Paternoster, 1991; Paternoster & Brame, 1997; Paternoster et al., 1997). Analyzing criminal career
data on two large Dutch samples, one in which the dependent variable was convictions for a violent
or property crime and the other of which was self-reported involvement in violent and property
crime, Blokland and Nieuwbeerta (2010) garnered support for both the population heterogeneity and
state dependence explanations of crime continuity. They further determined that dynamic (state
dependent) factors explained t he majority of the variance in crime co ntinuity for self-reported
violent and property offending and all but a negligible amount of the variance in crime continuity
in convictions for violent and property crime.
Psychological Inertia
Besides the population heterogeneity and state dependence explanations of crime continuity, there is
also a social cognitive explanation. This social cognitive explanation has been labeled psychological
inertia by Walters (2016a). The basic premise of the psychological inertia theorem of crime con-
tinuity is that the past crime–future crime relationship is mediated by quasi-time-stable social
cognitive variables. According to the psychological inertia theorem, crime continuity is the result
of social cognitive variables that link past crime to future crime. Research, in fact, indicates that such
social cognitive variables as general criminal thinking, goals and values, broadly defined outcome
expectancies for crime, and confidence in one’s ability to avoid future arrest are capable of mediat-
ing the past crime–future crime relationship (Walters, 2015a, 2015c, 2016a; Walters & DeLisi,
2013). The purpose of the current investigation was to determine whether self-efficacy for a con-
ventional lifestyle mediates the past crime–future crime relationship through a process of psycho-
logical inertia.
A recent trend in research on psychological inertia is to more clearly and precisely define the
social cognitive variables res ponsible for mediating crime c ontinuity via psychological ine rtia.
Results from two studies, for instance, have shown that reactive (impulsive, emotional) but not
proactive (planned, calculated) criminal thinking connects prior delinquency to future criminality
through a process of psychological inertia (Walters, 2016b, in press-b). This supports the presence of
psychological inertia in the control model of criminal lifestyle development, given that reactive
criminal thinking is the principal mediator of the control model (Walters, 2017). It leaves
Walters 187

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